One Friday in March 2008, John had lunch with his friend and former coworker, Fiona. "I have the perfect girl for you," she told him. "Unfortunately, she's taken."
The very next day, Fiona got a call from that perfect girl. Melissa was in tears; her boyfriend of one year had just broken up with her. "Don't worry," Fiona, her coworker at Coldwell Banker in Center City, told her. "I have the perfect guy for you."
Fiona hung up with Melissa and called John with Melissa's number. "Call this girl!" she told him. "She's the one I told you about at lunch."
John, a personal and business banker at Citibank, called Melissa on Monday. Wednesday, they went to dinner at a Spanish tapas place in the city, and discovered what Fiona already knew: They have the same values, they come from the same type of big, loving Italian family, and John's calm demeanor is the perfect balance for Melissa's "high-strung craziness," as she describes it.
They closed down the restaurant.
That December, Melissa was eyeing a black Susana Monaco dress at a local boutique. She loved it so much that she mentioned it to John. But at more than $300, it seemed far too extravagant, especially considering the slow real estate market.
Melissa was about to turn 25, and John told her they were going to Le Bec-Fin to celebrate. When she went to get ready, she found the black dress spread across the bed. After dinner, the couple went to Del Frisco's - a bar located in their Center City building - for a drink. John handed her a card. "Open the card, then in five minutes, come upstairs to the apartment," he told her, and left the table.
John had written sweet, romantic things about the journey of their relationship. Melissa was touched but not suspicious. When she got to the apartment, John and the couple's dogs - Bella and Zoe - were in the bedroom, which was filled with candles. He proposed, and they toasted her birthday and their future with champagne.
Melissa, who turns 26 today, and John, 28, were married at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Gladwyne. Melissa wore an off-white satin dress with beading and a long train. She carried a bouquet of wine-colored calla lilies, into which florist Il Fiore Bianco of Philadelphia tied photos of both of her grandmothers, who are now deceased.
The black-tie reception followed in the backyard of Melissa's parents, Joe and Donna Grasso. Family friend Joe Volpe - who owns Philadelphia's Cescaphé ballroom - had transformed a large white tent into an elegant ballroom. The mood was set with a plethora of candles, wrought-iron candelabras, topiaries, and an enormous chandelier.
John grew up in Pittsburgh, but both he and Melissa have family members in Italy, many of whom flew in for the occasion. Tables were named after towns where family members live.
When John and Melissa entered the reception, their 250 guests greeted them with lighted sparklers that made the tent glow. "It was amazing," Melissa said.
White doves were released as John and Melissa left the church after the ceremony. This was a gift from Melissa's aunts, Patty and Christina.
A bargain: None.
The splurge: The tent and its decor.
Two weeks in Hawaii.
The Rev. Donald E. Leighton of St. John the Baptist Vianney Catholic Church in Gladwyne
St. John Vianney and the Grasso backyard
Cescaphe Ballroom, Philadelphia
Sarah DiCicco, Wayne
Contagious, a band with Brandywine Valley Talent of Chadds Ford
From the Priscilla of Boston Platinum Collection, purchased at the Wynnewood store
Family friend Joe Volpe, who owns the Cescaphe Ballroom in Philadelphia
I Do Boutique, Philadelphia
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